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Golden Ears park needs cell signals

Search and rescue volunteers look for a 22-year-old woman from Surrey who drowned after falling into Gold Creek on June 25. - Contributed
Search and rescue volunteers look for a 22-year-old woman from Surrey who drowned after falling into Gold Creek on June 25.
— image credit: Contributed

A drowning two weeks ago in Golden Ears Provincial Park has put the lack of cellphone service in the spotlight again.

A family was forced to run more than a kilometre to find a person with a cellphone signal strong enough to call 911 after a young woman fell into Gold Creek.

Their ordeal has Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue wondering why the province hasn’t moved to improve cell signals in the park, which attracts 610,000 visitors a year.

“It would certainly help things if we had cell service,” said search and rescue manager Rick Laing, whose team of volunteers spent three days looking for the 22-year-old after she slipped off rocks on June 25 near Upper Falls.

“To not have cellphone service up there, especially in this day and age, is pretty bizarre. After all, it’s one of the most busy parks in the province.”

The fourth-most visited park in the provincial system, many visitors come to Golden Ears for the day to hike a network of trails which covers more than 60 kilometres.

Many of the trails wind through dense forest and the most popular routes hug Gold Creek, a popular spot to cool off on hot days.

The June 25 drowning is the fifth death in the park in the past four years.

In July 2013, friends of Jacob Rutzen-Gibbs struggled to call for help after the 21-year-old drowned in Alouette Lake while trying to swim to shore.

Rutzen-Gibbs’ friend Jennifer Partridge had to jumped in a car and drive a fair distance before she could reach 911. After his death, Partridge called for park authorities to clearly mark the area along the beach where cell service is available.

The Maple Ridge Fire Department believes improving the cell signal would help rescuers and the people calling for help.

“It must be a horrible feeling when you can’t contact 911,” said fire chief Dane Spence. It would also help rescuers locate people who are lost in the park more quickly.

The fire department has repeaters on their trucks to improve radio signals when they attend emergency calls in the park.

“We work around it,” said Spence. “We’ve never relied on the park to improve our signals.”

At present, B.C. Parks has no plans to improve cell coverage in the park, and no applications for cell towers.

There is a an emergency phone available for visitor use at the park gate. The Ministry of Environment said there have been “very few” complaints regarding limited cellphone coverage.

B.C. Parks does not have a policy on cellphone towers but deals with each application on a case-by-case basis.

Ridge Meadows RCMP won’t be resuming a search for the woman who drowned June 25 as the water is too dangerous. Crews believe her body may be trapped under rocks or debris.

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